I have always been a massive fan of the ITV series, Cold Feet, and you can imagine my delight when I settled down to the first episode of the new series, I found myself drawn into a dramatisation of Adam, a key character, being subject to disciplinary proceedings.
The background: Adam is in his 50s and is the IT Director in a young start up business. Everyone else that he works with is considerably younger than him, and a lot of his cultural references are lost in translation.
He found himself suspended from work, pending an investigation into “inappropriate conduct”. He came away from that suspension meeting none the wiser as to what he was being accused of, and spent some time wracking his brains to try and work out what he’d done wrong. My husband turned to me and said “surely you can’t suspend somebody without telling them what they are accused of?”. It may have made good drama, but he is right, in any suspension meeting you would want to tell the employee more about the inappropriate conduct in question. In this case, it was comments that had arisen when he had conducted a leaving presentation of the HR Officer, and he made a very bad taste joke about what the ‘H’ and ‘R’ in Human Resources stand for (I’ll leave it to you to imagine the sexual innuendo).
The powerful storyline showed a stark difference in attitude between the different generations – those in their early 20s tend to use a modern phrase “woke” and completely understood that the nature of his jokes may have been offensive, not only to the person he was making the joke about, but also to other women who may well have been offended by what he was saying, but who didn’t feel comfortable enough to speak out or say how they were feeling. The parental generation in the show were inclined to accept this sort of behaviour as normal or just what you have to put up with in the workplace. This has illustrated how, in a multi-generational workforce, it is possible that different generations apply different norms, and we need to do work to ensure that we all understand each other, and each other’s attitudes and feelings.
The drama then continued with Adam apologising, having learnt his lesson and accepting that he would take any disciplinary action on the chin. As it happened, his manager had decided to just give him a written warning. Clearly this dramatisation could mislead managers into thinking they can just reach a decision without needing to go through a disciplinary hearing which is procedurally unfair!
You may be interested in seeing the new guidance on sexual harassment in the workplace from the Equality and Human Rights watchdog.
If you would like to catch up on the episode, please see the ITV Hub